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Portland Plastic Bag Ban

Learn about the Bag Ban and New Legislation


Portland Plastic Bag Ban

Piles of plastic!

Photo via flickr by Taber Andrew Bain
Updated November 20, 2012

The plastic bag ban in Portland has just been bolstered. On November 15, the City Council unanimously approved a plan to extend the ban to all retailers by October 2013.

Portland's original plastic bag ban recently celebrated its one year anniversary (the legislation went into effect in October 2011). When Oregon legislators decided not to enact a statewide ruling, Portland mayor Sam Adams brought the issue to the Portland City Council, which unanimously approved it. According to the city of Portland's official website, before the ban Oregonians went through 1.7 billion plastic bags annually.

Unlike in Seattle, our neighbor to the north, the initial Portland ban did not affect farmers' markets, smaller stores or restaurants. The legislation targeted the big box chains and larger supermarkets with over $2 million in annual sales. Also stores that had more than 10,000 square feet of floor space and pharmacies needed to abide by the original ruling. Plastic bags were still allowed to be used to carry produce and meats, and pharmacies could use plastic bags to protect a customer's privacy -- and that remains unchanged.

Checkout counters at these larger establishments continued to use paper bags -- although they had the option to charge for them. Stores like New Seasons, a local grocery chain, avoided "taxing" those who required a paper bag by giving a discount for each resuable bag that customers brought for their grocery hauls.

Portland's Plastic Bag Ban 2.0

Phase one of the new legislation will go into effect on March 1, 2013 and will extend the ban to all retailers, food stores and restaurants larger than 10,000 feet. All of the remaining, smaller establishments will need to transition over to recycled paper bags and reusable bags at the checkout registers by October 1, 2013.

An October 2012 Bureau of Planning and Sustainability report showed a 300-percent increase in the use of reusable checkout bags since the original ban went into effect one year prior. Ban the Bags PDX cites another study that estimates a consumption drop of 8.5 million bags per month. Those figures influenced the City Council to expand the ban and further decrease the amount of waste generated via single-use plastic bags.

Exceptions to the Portland Bag Ban

  • Plastic produce bags and bulk food bags
  • Bags for meats and deli items
  • Pharmacy items

Other Oregon and U.S. Cities with Bans

Corvallis, Oregon, recently put a similarly comprehensive bag ban into effect, and other Oregon cities such as Eugene and Newport are looking at similar legislation. San Francisco, Malibu Cand Santa Monica, California, also have bans, and Los Angeles recently enacted legislation to eliminate plastic at supermarkets and sell paper bags for a 10-cent fee -- which will have an enormous impact. Washington D.C. has a ban in place, and New York City may not be far behind.

Check bunchbags.org for a list of cities worldwide with various anti-plastic bag laws in place.

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